The 120 Second Solution
By Jerry Bader (c) 2007
Like it or not, the Web is turning into an environment that will be dominated by audio and video presentations. And as we have already seen, the democratic nature of the Web has allowed the best and worst to stand side-by-side.
On one side, you have the whacky viral videos that serve little commercial purpose other than to enhance the reputations of their creators; and on the other side, you have deadly boring corporate videos that lack any of the qualities that make Web-video the best sales tool a business will ever have.
In the middle are a few innovative companies that know how to deliver a marketing message by telling a business story with style and panache so that an audience will remember the message and act upon it. And yes, even a few know how, and are willing, to do it with a reasonable budget.
Pay for Content-Production Not Airtime
The non-time sensitive nature of the Web differs from the corporate world of broadcast television where the cost of airtime has seen commercial formats gradually decrease from sixty, to thirty, to fifteen seconds.
I imagine the day is not too far off when we will have a new five-second commercial format all while the broadcast regulators are allowing more commercials per half hour of programming. According to Answers.com, "a typical 30-minute block of time includes 22 minutes of programming with 6 minutes of national advertising and 2 minutes of local (although some half-hour blocks may have as much as 12 minutes of advertisements)."
We've all had the distinct displeasure of having to sit through the same mind-numbing commercial as many as three times in the same commercial break. At that rate even good commercials we want to watch become exercises in Guantonamo-style torture tactics.
It's unlikely that the independent mentality that governs the Web will ever accept a uniform presentation standard to take hold; the idea is just too conventional for an environment that thrives on breaking the rules.
That said an argument could be made for the discipline of a Web-based video presentation format that tells an effective marketing story in the most efficient and memorable manner.
Form, Function, and Discipline
Effective marketing communication is about telling your story, whether it's a fifteen-second television commercial or a thirty-minute infomercial. If you don't tell a story you aren't communicating your message effectively.
Because the Web doesn't require you to purchase airtime, your video presentation once uploaded, is available 24/7 for all to see, anytime they wish, as often as they want.
Since you have this freedom of expression, you need to ask yourself, what is the best way to implement this independence? Do you follow the standard television format based on a cost-per-second basis, when in fact the length of the presentation is mostly irrelevant, or do you drone on for half-an-hour boring your viewers to tears?
There must be a standard format for Web video that makes sense both technically from a time-to-download perspective, and from an effectiveness standpoint, delivering the message in an unforgettable way.
Like with most things in life, discipline is very important, video production requires the producer to be focused; it helps keep budgets in line; and it delivers results because there just isn't any room for extraneous self-indulgence. In addition, following a standard format provides viewers with an expectation, a promise that you will say what needs to be said, and what they want to hear, in a reasonable and efficient amount of time.
The 120 Second Solution: The 3 Act Web Presentation
Unlike cost-per-time formats, you have the freedom to fudge the timing to meet your needs. On the Web, there is no sense in cutting a presentation because it runs fifteen seconds long, or adding superfluous material because it runs fifteen seconds short. That said, it is a good idea to start with a structure that allows you to build a presentation that works; a presentation that has a beginning, middle, and end; a presentation that tells a story viewers will sit through and pay attention to. What we have come up with is "The 120 Second Solution: The 3 Act Web Presentation."
We arrived at this format by analyzing how the best storytellers spin their yarns, the Hollywood moviemakers. Your standard Hollywood movie contains forty scenes, three acts, and runs approximately 120 minutes; yes, some movies run only ninety minutes, and others run as much as three hours, but 120 minutes is the optimum.
If you accept the premise that commercial Web videos are all about telling your story, then perhaps the best solution is to take the standard, three act, one hundred and twenty minute movie, and scale it down to a three act, one hundred and twenty second movie.
A Web Marketing Campaign
Our recent thought-piece the "18 Web-Marketing Concepts That Make A Difference" was introduced by six entertaining videos comprising 'The Lost Brad Tapes,' that loosely follow the 120 Second, 3 Act Web-Presentation Solution.
Act One: The Setup
Your first act is the setup:
(1) A proper setup needs to introduce your hero (every story, even commercials, need a hero);
(2) It must contain an Inciting Incident that triggers action on the part of the hero, and;
(3) It must also create an object of desire and define the nature of success.
By incorporating these elements in your first act, you attract viewer interest, hold viewer attention, create viewer expectation, and provide vicarious, virtual-viewer participation through the actions of the surrogate hero.
In the case of The Lost Brad Tapes, the inciting incident is our hero, Brad's, failure to find the answer to the question, "How do you become a website success?" Our hero searches the world and endures countless hardships just to find 'The Man' with 'The Answer.' And who in business hasn't searched high and low for some expert who could provide a simple solution to a complex problem.
Act one also establishes the object of desire, the knowledge needed to become a website success, and it defines the nature of success, finding the answer.
Act Two: The Conflict
Act two is about establishing conflict and building tension by creating an obstacle that provides the motivational impetus to act to resolve the problem.
With each successive chapter (video) of The Lost Brad Tapes, our hero runs into a roadblock in the guise of a supposed authority who has other things on his mind, and who is ultimately of no help, but who builds the dramatic tension that holds the viewer's interest. Will our boy Brad, find the answer and will he share it with you, the viewer?
Act Three: The Payoff
Act three provides the resolution: the object of desire is secured and the need is gratified. The audience is satisfied with the knowledge gained and the ínvestment in time.
Act three of the Lost Brad videos presents an attractive host who interrupts the video and talks directly to the audience, providing a teaser of one of the '18 Web-Marketing Concepts That Make A Difference,' and points the viewer to the complete article with the entire líst of eighteen things to think about along with a complete explanation of each.
The Lost Brad Tapes initiative is an example of how to produce a marketing campaign that delivers a business message by telling a story by following an organizational and development structure, proven to be effective. It is not a sales pitch; it asks for nothing from the viewer other their time; and it delivers sound business advice that establishes expertise.
If Web video is on your 'to do' líst, but you're not sure how to go about telling your story, then the 120 Second, 3 Act Web-Video Solution is a good place to start.
About The Author
Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit www.mrpwebmedia.com/ads, www.136words.com and www.sonicpersonality.com. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone (905) 764-1246.